Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

During a recent discussion about branding with a credit union marketing audit client, a recurring theme surfaced. The client referred to specific marketing collateral (such as the logo, corporate colors, brochures, etc.) as the brand.

This is a not an uncommon misunderstanding. While specific marketing collateral like your logo, brochures and commercials are definitely a part of your brand, they are not the totality of your brand. When seeking a way to define this somewhat vague notion, the point I emphasized was:

Your brand is much more cultural than collateral.

Again, this misunderstanding about brand is not unique to this particular client. Many banks and credit unions, and their marketing leadership teams, default to defining brand as something collateral. In reality, your collateral (while important) is a relatively small part of your overall brand. The brand itself goes much deeper, straight to the cultural heart of your financial institution.

You can have absolutely amazing-looking collateral (and, during mystery shop experiences I find that many banks and credit unions do fantastic collateral). But none of that matters if your brand (again, a cultural thing as lived by your staff in front of your consumers and each other) falls short.

Think about it this way — your collateral materials are a brand promise you make to consumers. In them you can promise a number of things such as we are the fastest, we are the friendliest, we are the (insert brand proposition here). Those pieces are designed to elicit a response from existing or potential members/customers. Once those people actually make contact with your bank or credit union, however, does the cultural experience your staff provide match the collateral promise? Are you indeed the fastest/friendliest/whatever?

If so, terrific. You are living up to your brand promise. If not, your bank or credit union suffers from a brand gap between its collateral and is cultural. You must repair that gap before it does serious damage to your brand credibility. You cannot be one thing in your collateral and another in your culture.

Your bank or credit union brand is the most important asset it has (and probably isn’t even reflected on any accounting spreadsheet). To advance your brand in an authentic, meaningful and future-focused way, everyone at your bank or credit union must understand that the brand is far more cultural than collateral.

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

An old maxim about conventional military forces goes something like this: “To be successful, an army must be bred, fed and led.”

The same three things apply to your bank or credit union brand in order for it to be successful.

Obviously, there are differences between an army and your brand and slight variations in the definitions of these three words. Here’s how it breaks down for your bank or credit union brand:

Bred: This means you must develop enthusiastic brand ambassadors from all employees, in effect breeding a culture of brand loyalty and excitement. This applies to both new employees when they first enter your bank or credit union culture as well as existing employees regardless of tenure. This generally goes back to how well your brand is backed up by proactive and effective training. Without this training, you’ll have a difficult task breeding the loyal brand soldiers you need to succeed.

Fed: You wouldn’t expect an army to march successfully on less than a full stomach. The same thing applies in a more emotional/spiritual way when it comes to your bank or credit union brand. Some of the feeding of your staff goes back to the previously mentioned training. However, you must also feed their spirit for your brand to thrive. How will you communicating success stories related to the brand? Are you praising staff that do well living the brand just as much (if not more) than criticizing/redirecting staff for brand shortcomings? Unless you feed your brand, you can’t take the bold steps forward required to succeed.

Led: Yes, everyone in your bank or credit union is responsible for taking care of the brand. In this instance, however, led refers specifically to your executive leadership team. Staff will look to these individuals to see just how high they hold brand standards. If your leadership team, including the CEO, aren’t leading the brand in a visible and meaningful way, why should your staff feel compelled to do so? As any great army is led by a great general, so must your bank or credit union brand also be led by individuals willing to do whatever it takes to guide your team to victory.

Bred, fed and led. Armies require this. So do bank and credit union brands. How well is your financial institution bred, fed and lead?

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Brand. Values. Culture. We throw these words around quite a bit in corporate America, often with minimal regard for what they actually mean or the impact they have. Sometimes we even hang them on the wall as proof that we’re important enough to have them.

None of that matters if you don’t practice what you preach (or prominently display). Do your employees even know what your bank or credit union values? Perhaps the better question is do the behaviors within your bank or credit union reflect what you say your culture is?

Every credit union, every bank, every business has an internal culture whether they recognize it or not. The way management treats employees is part of your culture. The way employees treat each other is part of your culture. The way your bank or credit union makes your employees feel when they are at work is a big part of your culture.

Why does any of this matter? Because your corporate values and your internal culture impact your brand strength. If your internal culture is weak or inconsistent, your brand will be, too.

Culture Gaps

When you market your bank or credit union one way but deliver a completely different level of service or experience, that is called a brand gap. When you define your corporate values and culture one way but employee behavior and performance contradicts it, we call that a culture gap.

For example, the poster hanging in your branch claims respect is one of your values, but managers frequently belittle their subordinates and employees thrive on disrespecting each other. That’s a culture gap. Or, your corporate values claim to respect and embrace all ideas, but employees are ridiculed or turned away when they attempt to share. That is a culture gap. You have to close those gaps to improve your culture and your brand, and it has to start at the top. Executives and managers must emulate your bank or credit union’s values in everything they do. If they act one way and expect their employees to act a different way, you will never close those gaps.


When you ask someone if they like their job, the answer almost always relates to how the company makes them feel or how their supervisors treat them. If you treat your employees like they matter, it makes them feel good. A simple e-mail that says, “Thank you for taking care of (insert situation). You really saved the day,” is an easy way to make someone feel good about themselves and their job. Letting an employee take an extra twenty minutes at lunch one day so they can eat with their kid at school indicates you value what’s important to them. When you consistently make your employees feel like they matter, they willingly do more for you.

If your bank or credit union creates great employee experiences, your employees will create great consumer experiences. That is how your culture and your brand thrive.

Branding Has No Org Chart

Branding Has No Org Chart

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

While conducting staff brand training for a credit union recently, a young member of the executive leadership team spoke up and said something profound. It’s sage advice for any bank or credit union entering new brand territory.

The individual in question said “when it comes to our brand, there is no org chart.”

Truer branding words were perhaps never spoken.

His statement came after a few moments of explanation in which I explained that every person at the credit union, regardless of position, branch or title, has a vital role to play in the brand. Taking it even deeper, I gave every employee in the room the unofficial title of “brand ambassador.”

The individual quoted above is absolutely right. When it comes to the brand of any bank or credit union, there really is no traditional org chart. Rather, branding is the responsibility of every person at the credit union from the CEO to the leadership team, frontline, backoffice, HR, marketing, IT, you name it. When done correctly, with spirit and enthusiasm, embracing the identity of the brand falls squarely on the shoulders of everyone at your bank or credit union. The brand org chart flows uniquely horizontally rather than vertically.

Any brand is only as strong as its weakest link and no individual at your bank or credit union wants to (or can’t afford to) be that weakest link. A brand is a result of how it is lived both between employees and the consumers they serve. When a bank or credit union adopts a brand, titles go out the window and everyone truly must become a brand ambassador (and this also applies outside traditional office hours and outside the four walls of your bank or credit union).

This certainly isn’t to say your executive leadership team doesn’t play a vital leadership role. In order for your brand to be successful, the leadership team must (believe it or not!) lead it. When the executive leadership team leads it, then staff will live it. Then and only then can your consumers come to love your brand.

But it’s really not about the org chart and who reports to who. When it comes to your brand, everyone reports to everyone as everyone is uniquely and equally responsible for the strength and integrity of your brand.

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Increasingly, banks and credit unions recognize the importance of regular and deeper-level consumer engagement training for their employees. And rightly so – as competition in financial products and services only deepens, banks and credit unions that thrive are those which focus to a greater extent on keeping their employees highly-trained and in-tune with their brands. Brand training is critical.

However, banks and credit unions sometimes miss the mark when it comes to their employee training format. All too often, they focus employee training programs on specifically how employees should do their jobs while glossing over the vitally important element why employees should do their jobs.

Generally, training to the how of a job is relatively simple. You train to a task (such as teller drawer procedures, compliance paperwork, lending documentation, etc.) over and over to such an extent that it becomes second nature to the employee. This isn’t a bad thing. Obviously, to be successful, employees must know how to do their jobs. However, when it comes to differentiating from the competition and establishing strong brand propositions, banks and credit unions must also teach your employees why they are doing their jobs. Many people can balance a drawer or process loans. What can your bank or credit union do that they can’t? The why answers this question.

The why goes directly back to brand. Why does the teller balance his drawer? Why does the compliance officer review countless documents? Why does the loan specialist meticulously collect information as part of the decision process? The surface-level answer goes directly back to the how of job performance. But the deeper consumer engagement level answer speaks to the why of job performance and brand building.

Training employees why they do their job (as it relates to the brand) gives them a much deeper knowledge and understanding about the importance of their role inside the credit union, regardless of position. It also grows their confidence and empowers them in their positions to make decisions, interact with consumers and grow the brand organically via authentic consumer interactions.

Learning how to do a job is important. A farmer wouldn’t be very successful if he didn’t know, for example, at what depth to plant certain kinds of seeds. However, a deeper level learning as to why you do a job is even more important. The same farmer carries the knowledge that he is feeding his family, the larger community and maybe even the world. The same applies for your bank or credit union. How is good, but why is better. And the why is your brand.

Note: This post originally ran September 1, 2016.

Your Brand: Like It, Love It, Want Some More of It?

Your Brand: Like It, Love It, Want Some More of It?

If you’re a country music fan, you might recall the 1995 Tim McGraw hit “I like It, I Love It.” The repeated refrain goes on to say “… but I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.” How does this apply to your brand? In many ways.

If your consumers like your brand, that’s a good thing. For a start. If consumers like your brand, there’s a pretty good chance they might come back again.

If your consumers love your brand, that’s even better. But you’re just getting the engine started. If consumers love your brand, there’s a pretty good chance they will not only come back to you again but also choose you over your many competitors.

If your consumers want some more of your brand, you’ve struck branding gold. If consumers want some more of your brand, they’re much more likely to be thoroughly dedicated to it, saturated with its messages and prone to spreading the good word about it to their friends and family. This is the pinnacle for which your brand should aspire.

And that’s really where you want your brand to be. Liking it is a good thing. But simply liking something is ephemeral, fleeting and shallow. Loving it is better but still not deep enough. To establish a firm brand hold on your consumers, you must devote the time, energy and resources to move the needle to “want some more of it.”